Dry drowning is a serious health condition wherein internal drowning of the lungs is caused and should not at all be ignored. Unfortunately, it is a condition that is not known to many. However, after the incident of a 10-year old boy from South Carolina on June 1, 2008, who was supposedly a victim of dry drowning, people are wanting to know more on this fatal condition. Parents and guardians need to take additional care when their babies are in contact with water. Older children too should be watched when in the pool, or near any large source of water. With this article, let us try to understand the term dry drowning, and the symptoms one should be on the lookout for to save their children from suffering due to this silent killer.
What is Dry Drowning?
The term dry drowning relates to the lack of ability of one's lungs to extract oxygen from inhaled air. In dry drowning, a certain amount of water, or any liquid, is present in the lungs, which results in the inability to take in oxygen from the air that is inhaled. It does not mean that the individual died in water, but simply means that there was no or little water in the lungs at the time of death. Hence, the term 'dry' is given. Moreover, it may also take place due to a damage to the respiratory system, and may even be induced by torture which includes waterboarding or repeated submersions of an individual in water, or any other fluid. Dry drowning in infants and children can also be caused due to muscular paralysis, drinking water excessively (which causes surplus fluid to get into the lung cells), inhaling a gas other than oxygen for a long period of time, and a puncture injury to the torso. In majority of dry drowning cases, when the person has been in water for a considerable period of time, a very small amount of liquid is found in the lungs during necropsy. In children, most victims are those who have been diagnosed with breathing or lung complications. This includes infants with underdeveloped lungs, children diagnosed with asthma, those who have antecedently suffered from pneumonia or any lung trauma like Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).
Dry drowning is ordinarily an outcome of a 'laryngospasm' which happens because of an involuntary contraction of the laryngeal cords. The laryngeal cords tend to compress when they detect water, or any kind of liquid coming in, which leads to a temporary blockage of oxygen getting into the lungs. Hence, even a near-drowning incident might result in dry drowning and death, as a result of the laryngeal cords compacting when even the smallest amount of water tries to move into the lungs. When the larynx closes itself, the entry of oxygen into the lungs is interrupted. Nevertheless, the heart carries on with the act of pumping blood into the lungs, and a little amount of blood gets into the airspace in the lungs. This results in the victim drowning in his own fluids or dying due to hypoxia. It is considered that dry drowning is experienced within 1-24 hours after the water or liquid entering the lungs.
Besides being aware of the symptoms, it is essential, especially in children, to monitor and check for them. The symptoms mentioned below are the classic signs of dry drowning and should never be ignored, especially if your child had been near water, has had a near-drowning experience, or has excessively played in water. Though commonly mistaken for symptoms of other maladies, or put down to just plain fatigue, the following, if ignored, can prove fatal for your child.
All kids respond to unintentional intake of water by coughing, and most of the time by crying and rubbing their eyes. The primary symptom that guardians should keep an eye on is persistent coughing which continues for an extensive amount of time, or often long after the water has been taken in. If the coughing continues for about 20-30 minutes after inhalation of water, it might be an indication of water in the lungs.
Abruptness of Breath and Chest Pain
Having trouble breathing freely, even after the child has finished swimming, is a major indication of water in the lungs and a symptom of the start of dry drowning. Kids experiencing chest pain is quite unusual, which is also a major indicator of water being present in the lungs.
Confusion and Sluggishness
If the kid seems confused and has difficulty in realizing verbal instructions, or has trouble in expressing his own thoughts following inadvertent water consumption, he/she is demonstrating a symptom of dry drowning. An emergent deficiency of energy, or extreme fatigue is also a significant symptom. Vomiting and involuntary laxation are also considered to be important symptoms.
Prevention and Treatment
To prevent dry drowning, it is recommended to keep the nose and mouth closed while diving in water. This will preclude an emergent flow of water into the lungs, that causes the larynx to spasm. It is also suggested to use proper swimming equipment, such as nose plugs, while swimming or while in the water for extended periods of time. The other step that you need to take is to look for symptoms as soon as possible. If any of the aforementioned symptoms are observed after a swimming session, it is suggested to seek medical assistance immediately. It is also crucial to take in mind that the symptoms will not vanish over time. Hence, it is very important to undergo treatment at a hospital, which includes removing water from lungs and resupplying oxygen as early as possible. Oxygen is usually supplied with the help of a ventilator or respirator, while the lungs are allowed to heal from any damage sustained due to the inhalation of water.
Dry drowning is considered an extremely serious matter, and it is strongly recommended that parents to keep an eye on their children while they swim in the pool. Even after the swimming session is over, parents or guardians should observe the child for the above symptoms. Likewise, children who have been playing in water (such as water parks, bathtubs, etc.) also need to be monitored for dry drowning symptoms.